I’ve loved photography ever since I was little, spending weekends on my grandma’s farm and seeing all the beauty that nature had to provide. She bought me a camera one year — back in the days of film — and said she would develop all the film for me. She later commented on how she regretted that commitment because I would bring her rolls upon rolls of film each time we visited. I was obsessed.
Photography became a side hustle of mine years later in 2007 and I quickly discovered my niche: kids and families. But I didn’t foresee it being anything more than just a bit of extra income for doing something I loved.
In March 2008, as I sat at home holding our one month old first born, my mom called and told me to turn on the Today Show immediately. They were doing a segment on a national birth bereavement photography organization. My heart sank. Up to that point, I thought that birth loss was a thing of years past that my grandma endured, but not common anymore. I was wrong. And as I sat there holding our perfectly healthy newborn son, my heart cried out for the families that never got to take their baby home.
I had to do something.
For the next 18 months I was intimately involved in the local chapter of this national organization. But there were a few of their policies that we didn’t see eye-to-eye on and, devastatingly, the local chapter dissolved. I was heartbroken. All I wanted was to help these families and it felt as if that had been snatched from me.
A beautiful friend of mine comforted me in that moment with these words “Who said this is the end? God lit a fire in your heart for a reason.”
I knew what I wanted to do almost instantly: start my own bereavement photography organization for our local community to fill the gap. But, because of our growing family, I heard distinctly from God “Yes, but not yet.” For four years.
And that’s because he wanted me to meet Logan first. See, Logan was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, a genetic condition in which his muscles began to deteriorate from the moment of birth. His parents chose a palliative approach with his care, making the most of what little time they would have of him through a bucket list of things he should experience as a child. A friend connected me with the family and I soon went to their home to capture a day in the life of Logan when he was just seven months old.
This particular day, his mom was scratching “play with dirt and mud” off Logan’s bucket list. She put each in a small container, sat him on her lap, and put his hands in it. At first he enjoyed it, but was soon ready to be done. She asked him as much, and he gleefully pushed the containers off her lap, dirt and mud spilling everywhere. I’ll never forget that moment — or this picture where I captured it. See, Logan was already losing the use of his arms at this point, so it was a big deal that he was able to throw the dirt.
It was upon meeting Logan that I realized the full breadth of what God was calling me to do. It wasn’t just about providing pictures for families enduring a birth loss — though that is most certainly valiant in itself — but about providing pictures for a family whose child has a terminal risk diagnosis. Because, Lord knows, that when your child has a genetic disorder like SMA, or a congenital heart defect, or leukemia, you don’t really think to get pictures done and you most certainly don’t have the extra money to pay for them when you’re paying for doctor visits and travel expenses and medications.
Logan took a turn for the worse at around 10 months old and I went back to the family’s home to do one final session of them all together. He passed six days later, and I photographed his celebration service. As I walked back to my car that day, I wept and begged God to let me start what my heart longed for — I couldn’t take one more week of waiting. And I felt this peace in the timing of it all.
On Angels’ Wings became a reality in June 2013. And almost immediately God showed me how his vision and plan was far bigger than just our local community. We are approaching our fifth anniversary (that alone blows my mind!) and now have nearly 60 photographers throughout the state of Missouri providing our services. Each year our recipient numbers nearly double. That sounds sad, but these families would have endured their hardships even if our organization didn’t exist, so those numbers mean that more and more people are aware our services are available to them, and that’s a great thing. Anything we can do to give them even a brief moment of gratefulness amidst the struggle is an absolute honor.
And I’ve learned so much during this journey, about grief, about friendship, about faith. Who knew that the purpose of On Angels’ Wings would reach beyond the recipients, and also help the volunteers involved to grow, learn and heal too? I certainly didn’t foresee it. But I’m grateful for the opportunity to help others in a capacity I never could have imagined. And I’m grateful for the lessons learned that have helped me to work toward emotional abundance in my life.